No matter what we are doing, we will stick to the existing rules for the contest. I think the process, as we have it, is quite fair. We knew the process from last time and it worked. Most of the solutions will open up more problems than they will resolve.
Actually, I wound not mind secret voting, as it keep mob/herd voting and voting to appease ones friends to a minimum. Those are some of the reasons we change back from publically listing the score.
A PM to The Admin in charge would not be bad.... though then people will assume that the admin will be a King Maker and choose what they wanted. So perhaps a blank account that a couple of admins know the password too? This is do-able, but complicated.
Polling is just the same as posting your votes, except you get a little annonymity. However, their is no mechanism to prevent people from voting for their own subs. That is something we might want to avoid in a contest. Personally I have no belief in an honor system. Too many people will do what they can to win.
As for the run off process. Yes, the public vote should be 4.5 or better, with a miminum of the five highest rated. So if the fifth best rated is 4.3, that would go. HoH are too easy to obtain and are frequently just given because it is "new", but seven votes high enough to keep your rating above 4.5 is hard to do, thus worth it as a selection process.
Note: Now this does penalized the "artistic" or "different". People tend not to like them. If you submit a piece like that rather than one that is more one conventional, one needs to live with that result. I do this all the time and my scores reflect it. People often do not perceive what you see as the true value of what you post . Thus we suffer for our art or our choices of odd game systems/ setting. If you are in it for the scores, then you need to do more "conventional" posts. If you are in it for the Art, then ignore the scores AND contests.
Now about the running off:
If we allow people to vote on any sub, rather than the ones that were publically scored high, then this become nothing more than a contest of "who has the most friends". Thus the votes make a good weeding system, as friends tend to vote higher for friends (though less inclined to do that now that we have secret voting). It is not perfect, but name any represenational process that is.
One winner is really all we need. If you want to give out more or have "almost good enough" ratings/ winners, then feel free. But do we need it? I personally think not.